Social inequalities in childcare quality and their effects on children's development at school entry: findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

A. Gialamas, M.N. Mittinty, M.G. Sawyer, Stephen Zubrick, J. Lynch

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Abstract

Background
Higher quality childcare in the years before school may help narrow developmental gaps between the richest and poorest children in our societies, but specific evidence is limited and inconsistent. We address this issue by examining whether higher quality childcare is associated with better developmental outcomes at school entry for children from lower than higher income families.

Methods
The sample from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children included children attending childcare from 2 to 3 years (n=980-1187, depending on outcome). Childcare quality was measured using carers assessment of their relationship with the child. Children's receptive vocabulary was directly assessed in the child's home, and behavioural difficulties were measured by teachers and parents at 4-5 years. We assessed additive and multiplicative income-related effect measure modification of the quality of carer-child relationship on developmental outcomes.

Results
After adjusting for confounding, there was some evidence of effect measure modification on the additive and multiplicative scales of childcare quality by income. Children experiencing higher quality relationships and lower income had almost the same risk of poorer receptive vocabulary as children in higher quality relationships and higher incomes (relative excess risk due to interaction=0.18; 95% CI -0.20 to 0.52), ratio of relative risks=1.11 (1.04 to 1.17)). These patterns were similar for teacher-reported and parent-reported behavioural difficulties.

Conclusions
The effects of higher quality childcare, in terms of quality relationships with carers, on children's cognitive and behavioural development at school entry were stronger among children from lower income families. This provides some evidence that higher quality relationships in childcare may be especially important in helping reduce developmental gaps for children from lower income families.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-848
JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
Volume69
Issue number9
Early online date31 Mar 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015

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